Back in the spring of 1959, Cliff Fender wrapped his 1951 Mercury around a tree just north of downtown Coeur d’Alene.
He spent the summer in a body cast and missed his girlfriend’s senior prom at Coeur d’Alene High School. After he healed, Fender moved to California, where he found work, married and raised a family.
But he retained a fondness for his hometown, and for classic cars.
Tonight, Fender’s 1965 Mustang will be among about 800 classic cars expected to parade through downtown Coeur d’Alene for the kickoff of the 20th annual Car D’Lane, a classic car show that draws entries from around the West. The cruise will be followed by Saturday’s daylong car show, in which prizes are awarded in 26 categories. Only cars from 1972 or earlier can enter.
Fender moved back to the area in 2002. He lives in Spokane but is president of the North Idaho Classic Car Club, which hosts Car D’Lane with the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association. Fender found his Mustang for sale in a Spokane driveway in July 2003. Although it’s a classic car, it was modified with updated suspension, power steering and disc brakes.
“It’s a classic car, but I drive it every day,” he said. “I just love the car. It gives me so many of the conveniences of a modern car.”
Tonight’s cruise costs $10 to enter; the show costs $35, which includes the cruise. The $10 cruise entry fee goes to the community in the form of donations to charities in North Idaho and Spokane. Since 1990, the club has donated $70,000 to charities, including food banks, family-service organizations and child-abuse prevention centers. Last year, $6,000 was donated to 24 different charities, Fender said.
Considering this is the 20th anniversary of one of Coeur d’Alene’s biggest summer events, the classic car club planned some special touches. They contacted the region’s oldest car club, The Dukes, and invited its members to lead tonight’s cruise.
Rich Carpenter of Spokane, president of The Dukes, said his club has been going since the 1940s and has 136 members. All the members’ cars are from 1949 or earlier, including his 1935 Ford four-door. About 10 to 15 of them plan to attend, Carpenter said.
“It’s quite an honor to be asked,” he said.
Fender said of all the cars he’s owned over the years, he pines most for that 1951 Mercury.
“I remember buying a ’47 Ford two-door when I was 14 years old. Back then, you could drive at 14 during the day,” said Fender, who is 69. “I’ve had a car since I was old enough to have a part-time job. I’d love to have some of those cars back.”
Though he never recovered the Mercury, Fender did get his girl back. When he returned to the area, he reconnected with his high school sweetheart, Donna. Both were divorced. They rekindled their romance and married six years ago.